Like many people, we've got a MacBook, but this is a recent update. We've always had PC computers. At one point, there were probably around 6-8 old PCs in various states of assembly in our home office, which got a bit cluttered. That being said, there are many things that you can do with old PCs, and making yours into a data server makes sense since it's something that desktops do well.
After about 5 years or so, if you haven't done much maintenance and/or upgrades, you probably think that your ailing PC desktop is good for the dump, but you'd be wrong. There are many easy ways of using old desktop computers. All you need is a bit of technical knowhow.
One of the most common things to do with an old PC is to turn it into a data server. This basically means that the only purpose of your PC is to run a bunch of hard drives. While it's connected to your WiFi network, it can serve as a data hub. Depending on how many hard drives you're using in this new configuration, one of these will probably be enough for the whole family.
1. Format your main drive, C:\ after having backed up the old data. Once it's formatted, it's completely wiped clean. If it's an old computer, you can always format a few times, just to be thorough.
2. Install Windows 7. Linux could also work, if you know how to do this.
3. Install as many hard drives as will fit, probably between 2 and 5, depending on the available space and ports.
4. Connect your PC to your WiFi network so that all of the computers within the network can use your PC to save data.
5. You'll have to allow the sharing of drives. Right-click on the drive, select Properties and then Sharing. You'll have to set-up a sharing account to allow people access to this. This can be done via the Control Panel's User Accounts.
This type of data server has got many uses. It can be used to archive photos and other forms of media, replacing disposable external hard drives. It's also slightly cheaper and safer than buying a bunch of different external hard drives. We'd recommend using a RAID controller to ensure the safety of your data. Running a RAID hard drive array will allow one of your HDs to fail while keeping all of your data still intact. You'll lose a bit of storage, but that's nothing if ever one of your hard drive fails.
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(Images: Flickr member Marcin Wichary licensed for use under Creative Commons, Flickr member Waleed Alzuhair licensed for use under Creative Commons and Flickr member William Hook licensed for use under Creative Commons)